In my last column, I took a look at some of the rationale behind the data mart consolidation (DMC) movement. This month, I suggest some keys to success for anyone considering such an effort based on interviews of eight global data warehouse programs that have successfully accomplished DMC. The following are key findings from the interviews:

  • The number of marts/warehouses consolidated ranged from 3 to 70 with a median of 7.5.
  • The majority of environments had duplicate and inconsistent data across the pre- consolidation environment.
  • The primary reason for DMC varied with very strong opinions for the reasons cited! Five programs quoted business rationale such as creating a consolidated view of customers, while three quoted IT cost reductions.
  • All performed at least some manner of re- architecting, although several made this a later-stage step that followed rehosting.
  • Except for the case where the consolidated databases had operational functions to perform in the environment as well, only one kept the consolidated marts/warehouses in the environment after the DMC. The old platforms were redeployed to other uses or, in most cases, eliminated.
  • Every DMC was made very visible to the user community. These projects required a great deal of support, which most received from the highest levels of the organization. It was not possible to accomplish DMC objectives in a skunkworks manner.
  • Very few user data access outages were reported. Most DMC programs took great caution to transition users smoothly to the new environment.
  • Five programs credited IT with the idea for the DMC. The other three cited the business with the initiative.
  • All said scalability was important to the data warehousing decision. Many indicated scalability was placed at the top of the criteria list due to the increase in data and users of the data warehouse.
  • Almost every DMC faced some degree of cultural resistance to the idea of consolidating and centralizing. Most of this was adeptly dealt with by obtaining top-down support and cultivating user interest throughout the project. The majority of resistance disappeared as early benefits of the DMC were realized.
  • Operational systems impact as a result of DMC efforts was minimal.

DMC can be used to implement a scalable, integrated, multi- application data warehouse that absorbs all analytical-type activity in an organization, or it can be used to "simply" get an antiquated system out of the environment by moving its function to a system still under support from its vendor.
Regardless of the ambition, many DMC efforts eventually lead to the first goal. The act of initiating the consolidation idea within an organization seems to spawn more and more consolidation.

For those organizations that are considering DMC and will have opportunity to plan its success, some best practices as well as anecdotal evidence emerged from the interviews. These are also applicable to newer data warehouse efforts or those being revamped to a centralized data warehouse environment.

Get top-down support. This was cited as the number one key to success in five of the cases and was a top-three key in all but one case.

Fix a problem. Whether you justify on cost savings or a business benefit (or both), the DMC should fix a major, known problem that can be quantified in business terms.

Have data standards and a sound data model.

Pick the right tools and platform. Put DMC on a scalable platform. Your data volume managed within a singular database will instantaneously explode with DMC. Future efforts will continue to grow the environment. Many recognized the changing of platforms as an opportunity to also evaluate/change data access and ETL tools.

Set expectations and communicate with users. There is no such thing as overcommunication in a DMC project. This is about the users, and care needs to be taken to migrate the users without any disruption in their ability to access data.

Don't just rehost, rearchitect. This time of transition is also an opportunity to reevaluate the data warehouse program according to established best practices – a time to evaluate what is and isn't working and fully take advantage of the new platform and the migration process.

Starve the pre-consolidated marts of attention and resources. Negotiate the condition for user signoff prior to DMC. Make sure all utility is removed from the marts.

Justify on either platform cost savings, business benefits or both. The larger the project, the more DMC is a difficult technical challenge and the platform cost savings more evident. It is always easiest to justify on cost savings, but business benefit based on delivering new capabilities can be significant.

Expect and plan for cultural resistance. Ownership, as a concept in the former environment, may now be designated at a subject-area level as opposed to a data- mart level. Carry forward security and stewardship designations and responsibilities to the consolidated data warehouse. This may even be a time to improve these programs.

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